North Korea ‘sentences Trump to death’ for insulting Kim Jong-un

The Guardian reports: North Korea’s state media has criticised Donald Trump for insulting leader Kim Jong-Un, saying the US president deserved the death penalty and calling him a coward for cancelling a visit to the inter-Korean border.

An editorial in the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun focused its anger on Trump’s visit to South Korea last week, during which he denounced the North’s “cruel dictatorship” in a speech to legislators in Seoul.

The visit was part of a marathon five-nation Asia tour by the US president aimed largely at galvanising regional opposition to the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“The worst crime for which he can never be pardoned is that he dared [to] malignantly hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership,” the editorial said.

“He should know that he is just a hideous criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people,” it added. [Continue reading…]

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Pompeo emerges as favorite to succeed Tillerson

Politico reports: President Donald Trump has turned his daily intelligence briefing — a routine that in previous administrations has been a dry, formal affair — into a free-flowing conversation during which he peppers his CIA director, former House member Mike Pompeo, with questions about everything from national security threats to the internal dynamics of Congress.

After their 10 a.m. sessions, which Pompeo conducts in person about four mornings a week, Trump often asks Pompeo to accompany him to his next meeting — whatever it is.

The CIA director’s favored status in the West Wing has made him the odds-on choice to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to more than half a dozen administration officials and outside advisers familiar with the White House’s current plans. It’s not clear when Tillerson might leave — he has vigorously denied rumors that he plans to resign anytime soon — but Pompeo has told associates that he expects the president to tap him for the position and that he’d accept the job if it’s offered to him. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s nuclear authority divides senators alarmed by his ‘volatile’ behavior

The Washington Post reports: Senators trying to prevent President Trump from launching an unprovoked nuclear attack were stymied Tuesday, after a panel of experts warned them against rewriting laws to restrain a commander in chief many worry is impulsive and unpredictable enough to start a devastating international crisis.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has said Trump’s threats to global rivals could put the country “on the path to World War III,” began Tuesday’s session warning of the inherent danger in a system where the president has “sole authority” to give launch orders there are “no way to revoke.”

By the time Corker emerged from the hearing — the first to address the president’s nuclear authority in over four decades — he was at a loss for what to do next. “I do not see a legislative solution today,” Corker told reporters. “That doesn’t mean, over the course of the next several months, one might not develop, but I don’t see it today.”

Trump’s shifting posture on how to address nuclear threats has made lawmakers in both parties uneasy, particularly as the crisis over North Korea’s ambitions escalates. [Continue reading…]

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Sessions again changes his account of what he knew about Trump campaign’s dealings with Russians

The Washington Post reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday again revised his account of what he knew about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russians, acknowledging for the first time that he recalled a meeting where a foreign policy adviser mentioned having contacts who could possibly broker a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he now remembered adviser George Papadopoulos saying in March 2016 that he knew people who might be able to help arrange a Trump-Putin meeting.

When Sessions was asked last month whether he thought surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians, he said, “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened.”

But at Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions said his memory had been refreshed.

“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting,” Sessions told lawmakers. “After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.” [Continue reading…]

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Sessions insists ‘factual basis’ will determine appointment of counsel, not Trump

The New York Times reports: President Trump did not need to send a memo or telephone his attorney general to make his desires known. He broadcast them for all the world to see on Twitter. The instruction was clear: The Justice Department should investigate his defeated opponent from last year’s campaign.

However they were delivered, Mr. Trump’s demands have ricocheted through the halls of the Justice Department, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now ordered senior prosecutors to evaluate various accusations against Hillary Clinton and report back on whether a special counsel should be appointed.

Mr. Sessions has made no decision, and in soliciting the assessment of department lawyers, he may be seeking a way out of the bind his boss has put him. At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, he pushed back against Republicans impatient for a special counsel. But if he or his deputy ultimately does authorize a new investigation of Mrs. Clinton, it would shatter post-Watergate norms intended to prevent presidents from using law enforcement agencies against political rivals.

The request alone was enough to incite a political backlash, as critics of Mr. Trump quickly denounced what they called “banana republic” politics of retribution, akin to autocratic nations where election losers are jailed by winners.

“You can be disappointed, but don’t be surprised,” said Karen Dunn, a former prosecutor and White House lawyer under President Barack Obama who advised Mrs. Clinton during her campaign. “This is exactly what he said he would do: use taxpayer resources to pursue political rivals.” [Continue reading…]

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The making of an American Nazi

Luke O’Brien writes: On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”

When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area. But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door. Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.

The calls marked the start of a months-long campaign of harassment orchestrated by Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. He claimed that Gersh was trying to “extort” a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son, Richard Spencer, was another prominent white nationalist and the face of the so-called alt-right movement.

The Spencers had long-standing ties to Whitefish, and Richard had been based there for years. But he gained international notoriety just after the 2016 election for giving a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he declared “Hail Trump!,” prompting Nazi salutes from his audience. In response, some Whitefish residents considered protesting in front of a commercial building Sherry owned in town. According to Gersh, Sherry sought her advice, and Gersh suggested that she sell the property, make a donation to charity, and denounce her son’s white-nationalist views. But Sherry claimed that Gersh had issued “terrible threats,” and she wrote a post on Medium on December 15 accusing her of an attempted shakedown. (Sherry Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the time, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin barely knew each other. Spencer, who fancies himself white nationalism’s leading intellectual, cloaks his racism in highbrow arguments. Anglin prefers the gutter, reveling in the vile language common on the worst internet message boards. But Spencer and Anglin had appeared together on a podcast the day before Sherry’s Medium post was published and expressed their mutual admiration. Anglin declared it a “historic” occasion, a step toward greater unity on the extreme right.

It was in this spirit that Anglin “doxed” Gersh and her husband, Judah, as well as other Jews in Whitefish, by publishing their contact information and other personal details on his website. He plastered their photographs with yellow stars emblazoned with JUDE and posted a picture of the Gershes’ 12-year-old son superimposed on the gates at Auschwitz. He commanded his readers—his “Stormer Troll Army”—to “hit ’em up.”

“All of you deserve a bullet through your skull,” one Stormer said in an email.

“Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced kike,” another wrote to Judah.

“You fucking wicked kike whore,” Andrew Auernheimer, The Daily Stormer’s webmaster, said in a voicemail for Gersh. “This is Trump’s America now.” [Continue reading…]

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UN agency report shows Iran meeting nuclear commitments

The Associated Press reports: The United Nations agency monitoring Iran’s compliance with a landmark nuclear treaty issued a report Monday certifying that the country is keeping its end of the deal that U.S. President Donald Trump claims Tehran has violated repeatedly.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report stopped short of declaring that Iran is honoring its obligations, in keeping with its official role as an impartial monitor of the restrictions the treaty placed on Tehran’s nuclear programs.

But in reporting no violations, the quarterly review’s takeaway was that Iran was honoring its commitments to crimp uranium enrichment and other activities that can serve both civilian and military nuclear programs.

The report cited IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as stressing “the importance of the full implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments” under the deal. Diplomats familiar with the work that went into the evaluation said Amano’s statement referred to a past violation on heavy water limits that Iran has since corrected.

Heavy water cools reactors that can produce plutonium used to make the core of nuclear warheads. The IAEA last year said that Tehran had slightly exceeded the limit, but later said it had returned to compliance. Monday’s report showed its heavy water supply remains under the maximum 130 metric tons (143.3 tons) allowed under the deal. [Continue reading…]

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The upstart Saudi prince who’s throwing caution to the winds

The New York Times reports: With the tacit backing of his father, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince has established himself as the most powerful figure in the Arab world, rushing into confrontations on all sides at once.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the arrest of 11 princes in his royal family and nearly 200 members of the Saudi business elite, and has begun to take power from the kingdom’s conservative clerics. He has blockaded neighboring Qatar, accused Iran of acts of war and encouraged the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister. And in Yemen, his armed forces are fighting an Iranian-aligned faction in an intractable war that created a humanitarian crisis.

The crown prince has moved so quickly that American officials and others worry that he is destabilizing the region. Signs of potential blowback are growing.

Investors, nervous about his plans, have been moving money out of the kingdom. Prince Mohammed has sought to counter the capital flight by squeezing detainees and others to surrender assets. He has presented the arrests as a campaign against corruption, but his targets call it a shakedown, and he has turned for advice to a former Egyptian security chief who has been pilloried at home for brutality and graft.

Prince Mohammed’s supporters say he is simply taking the drastic measures needed to turn around the kingdom’s graft-ridden and oil-dependent economy while pushing back against Iranian aggression.

But analysts around the region debate whether the headlong rush might be driven more by a desire to consolidate power before a possible royal succession, desperation for cash to pay for his plans or simply unchecked ambition to put his stamp on the broader Middle East. And despite President Trump’s enthusiasm for the prince, some in the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies say they fear that his impulsiveness could both set back his own goals and destabilize the region.

“He’s decided he doesn’t do anything cautiously,” said Philip Gordon, the White House Middle East coordinator under President Barack Obama. But, Mr. Gordon said, “if the crown prince alienates too many other princes and other pillars of the regime, pursues costly regional conflicts and scares off foreign investors, he could undermine the prospects for the very reforms he is trying to implement.”

The extrajudicial arrests have spooked investors enough, analysts say, to extinguish the prince’s plans for an public stock offering of Aramco, the Saudi state oil company, in New York or London next year. It had been a centerpiece of his overhaul. [Continue reading…]

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Trump choosing white men as judges, highest rate in decades

The Associated Press reports: President Donald Trump is nominating white men to America’s federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation’s diversity.

So far, 91 percent of Trump’s nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was George H.W. Bush.

The shift could prove to be one of Trump’s most enduring legacies. These are lifetime appointments, and Trump has inherited both an unusually high number of vacancies and an aging population of judges. That puts him in position to significantly reshape the courts that decide thousands of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country. The White House has been upfront about its plans to quickly fill the seats with conservatives, and has made clear that judicial philosophy tops any concerns about shrinking racial or gender diversity.

Trump is anything but shy about his plans, calling his imprint on the courts an “untold story” of his presidency.

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” he says. “But when you think of it … that has consequences 40 years out.” He predicted at a recent Cabinet meeting, “A big percentage of the court will be changed by this administration over a very short period of time.” [Continue reading…]

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Is Trump turning the Justice Department into his own political attack dog?

The Washington Post reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.

In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.” [Continue reading…]

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The secret correspondence between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks

Julia Ioffe reports: Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”

The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Trump can’t believe both Putin and his own intelligence agencies

Ryan Goodman and John Sipher write: When asked on Saturday about his conversation with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Vietnam, President Donald Trump reported that the Russian president denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That, of course, directly contradicts the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community. “Every time [Putin] sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said. The next day, in confusing fashion, he walked back parts of his earlier statement, saying he believes “in our intel agencies.” (Regarding what, exactly, he left unclear). But he also seemingly doubled down on his previous assertion. “I believe that [Putin] feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said.

Trump went on to say he hopes to cooperate with Russia to solve global problems like North Korea and Syria. But if he does in fact seek such help, based on the false premise of Putin’s sincerity, that’s bad news. Putin is a world-class liar—indeed, he’s professionally trained in the art of deception. He grew up in the Soviet KGB, ran Russia’s brutal internal security service, and has remade the government into a personal fiefdom. He now serves as an unchallenged autocrat. Analysts assess that he is one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, despite his modest claim that his official salary is less than $200,000 a year.

Inside Russia, truth and falsehood are purposely clouded so that Putin can create facts serving his own interests and those of his coterie. Truth is only what he says it is, at the time of his choosing. The same truth may well be denied the following day. And conveyers of real truth, including dissidents and reporters, are eliminated.

Putin seems to regard his capacity to assert obvious lies as truth as an exertion of his power. Immediately following the shoot-down of a Malaysian airliner in which 298 civilians were killed, he lied about the circumstances that led to their murder. He denied the illegal use of chemical weapons by his allies in Syria. He lied about the Russian invasion of Crimea and the use of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, and he covered up the secret state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes. In each case, his deceit has been revealed. Yet he has doubled down on his rendering of the truth, remaining steadfast no matter how ridiculous he appears. [Continue reading…]

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Trump judicial pick did not disclose he is married to a White House lawyer

The New York Times reports: One of President Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees did not disclose on publicly available congressional documents that he is married to a senior lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office.

The nominee, Brett J. Talley, is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote that could come as early as Monday to become a federal district judge in Alabama. He is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.

Mr. Talley was asked on his publicly released Senate questionnaire to identify family members and others who are “likely to present potential conflicts of interest.” He did not mention his wife.

District judges often provide the first ruling when laws are called into question, decisions that can put them at odds with the White House and its lawyers. Last month, for example, judges in Hawaii and Maryland temporarily blocked Mr. Trump’s travel ban.

Mr. Talley also did not mention his wife when he described his frequent contact with White House lawyers during the nomination process.

Democrats have strongly criticized the nomination of Mr. Talley, a 36-year-old who has never tried a case and who received a rare “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. His nomination advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday on a party-line vote. [Continue reading…]

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Trump lauds ‘great relationship’ with Duterte in Manila

The New York Times reports: President Trump said on Monday that he had a “great relationship” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, making little mention of human rights at his first face-to-face meeting with an authoritarian leader accused of carrying out a campaign of extrajudicial killings in his nation’s war on drugs.

In a stark break from past practice by American presidents, who have pressed foreign leaders publicly and privately about allegations of human rights abuses, Mr. Trump instead pursued his own transactional style of diplomacy, dwelling mostly on areas of common ground during his meeting with Mr. Duterte. On the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit meeting, Mr. Trump focused on combating the Islamic State and illegal drugs as well as on trade issues, the White House said.

“Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

But Mr. Duterte’s spokesman denied that the subject of rights was ever broached, even as the Philippine president spoke about the “drug menace” in his country.

Mr. Trump “appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter and was merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we faced on drugs,” said Harry Roque, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman. “The issue of human rights did not arise; it was not brought up.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump distances himself from his own remarks on Putin over election meddling

Reuters reports: U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday attempted to clear up confusion over whether he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of meddling in the U.S. election last year.

At a news conference in Vietnam, Trump distanced himself from remarks he made on Saturday in which he suggested he believed Putin when he said there had been no Russian meddling in the election that took him to the White House.

The comments had drawn criticism at home because U.S. intelligence agencies have long since concluded there was Russian meddling.

“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” Trump said at a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.

“As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

He was careful to make clear he sided with the intelligence agencies under his own leadership.

Former U.S. intelligence director James Clapper had told Reuters: “The fact the president of the United States would take Putin at his word over that of the intelligence community is quite simply unconscionable.” [Continue reading…]

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‘White Europe’: 60,000 nationalists march on Poland’s independence day

The Guardian reports: Tens of thousands of nationalist demonstrators marched through Warsaw at the weekend to mark Poland’s independence day, throwing red-smoke bombs and carrying banners with slogans such as “white Europe of brotherly nations”.

Police estimated 60,000 people took part in Saturday’s event, in what experts say was one of the biggest gathering of far-right activists in Europe in recent years.

Demonstrators with faces covered chanted “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!”. A banner hung over a bridge that read: “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”

The march organised by far-right groups in Poland is an annual event originally to mark Poland’s independence in 1918. But according to Nick Lowles, from UK anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, it has become an important rallying point for international far-right groups.

“The numbers attending this year seem to be bigger and, while not everyone on the march is a far-right activist or fascist, it is undoubtedly becoming more significant and is acting as a magnet for far-right groups around the world.”

Some participants marched under the slogan “We Want God!”, words from an old Polish religious song that the US president, Donald Trump, quoted during a visit to Warsaw earlier this year. Speakers encouraged attendants to stand against liberals and defending Christian values. [Continue reading…]

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Can my children be friends with white people?

Ekow N. Yankah writes: My oldest son, wrestling with a 4-year-old’s happy struggles, is trying to clarify how many people can be his best friend. “My best friends are you and Mama and my brother and …” But even a child’s joy is not immune to this ominous political period. This summer’s images of violence in Charlottesville, Va., prompted an array of questions. “Some people hate others because they are different,” I offer, lamely. A childish but distinct panic enters his voice. “But I’m not different.”

It is impossible to convey the mixture of heartbreak and fear I feel for him. Donald Trump’s election has made it clear that I will teach my boys the lesson generations old, one that I for the most part nearly escaped. I will teach them to be cautious, I will teach them suspicion, and I will teach them distrust. Much sooner than I thought I would, I will have to discuss with my boys whether they can truly be friends with white people.

Meaningful friendship is not just a feeling. It is not simply being able to share a beer. Real friendship is impossible without the ability to trust others, without knowing that your well-being is important to them. The desire to create, maintain or wield power over others destroys the possibility of friendship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream of black and white children holding hands was a dream precisely because he realized that in Alabama, conditions of dominance made real friendship between white and black people impossible. [Continue reading…]

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